Yesterday, we got a rare glimpse of how sensitive Saudi Arabia is to its human rights abuses being exposed. At a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, a representative of my organization, the Center for Inquiry, was repeatedly shouted down by the Saudi representative in an attempt to stop her from delivering our statement condemning its crackdown on free expression and belief, and its persecution of dissidents such as Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair.
And lucky for us, there’s video.
CFI’s representative, Josephine Macintosh, sought to take Saudi Arabia to task. The CFI statement said, in part:
We call on Saudi Arabia, as a newly elected member of this council, to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for “blasphemy,” “insulting Islam,” or “apostasy.” If it is to retain any credibility as a member, we urge it to reform its laws so as to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression, cease the use of corporeal punishment, and repeal Article 1 of its interior ministry’s degree defining atheism as terrorism.
But the Saudis would not have it, and on three separate occasions yelled to the council president that Macintosh had to be silenced. In fact, we at CFI have been told by one Arabic speaker that the Saudi representative wasn’t just demanding that Macintosh be “silenced,” but something closer to “I ask you to shut her up!”
Macintosh was determined to press on, and she was aided in expressions of support within the meeting by representatives of the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and France. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia failed to silence her, and she was able to deliver statement in full. You can read all of CFI’s statement here.
Afterward, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett tweeted:
Proud that Canada defended @center4inquiry right to speak in Human Rights Council on Raif Badawi case today.
Michael De Dora, who serves as CFI’s chief UN representative, told news outlet Middle East Eye, that this episode was very telling:
It doesn’t look good for Saudi Arabia. By trying to silence us, and looking a bit desperate in doing so, they have actually caused more attention to be given to the statement we were delivering.
For my part, I found it truly remarkable that a representative of such a powerful and oppressive nation would react so strongly and with such panic over the public condemnation of an NGO. It’s extremely encouraging, even if it only means that the work of CFI and its allies on the world stage are beginning to get under Saudi Arabia’s skin, and they begin to feel the gaze of world attention on their oppression grow hotter and hotter.